NEW YORK—No doubt you have personally experienced the benefits of a well-designed building—just as you have also been troubled or frustrated by one that is designed poorly, even if you couldn’t put your finger on why. Research shows that the design of a building could affect your health or even be an aid in your healing process.
Age-old design concepts aim to provide better living and work environments. Basic design principles include natural lighting, proper ventilation, and something as simple and obvious as a good view. A lot of these principles have been ignored over the past 50 years, mostly for financial reasons, lack of interest, and simplistic beliefs such as “bigger is better.”
Sustainable design has been of growing interest to architects and clients across the building industry. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines have played a key role in reprioritizing the importance of healthily designed buildings. More evidence is coming forth to prove the effectiveness of a well-designed building.
Anastasia Harrison, director of Sustainability at design firm Gensler Associates, has more than 22 years of professional experience in architectural design and LEED consulting. At a recent seminar, she talked about research in to the benefits of green buildings. For example, 80 percent feel more comfortable and more at home in green buildings; 29 percent have a higher satisfaction rate and are hence more actively engaged; and the number of sick days in green buildings are reduced by 2–5 percent per year.
A Good View Is Good for Your Health
Views are also proving to aid the healing process. A study conducted by scientist Robert Olbrich over 10 years compared patients. One-half had views of brick walls while the other half had a view of nature. The latter were able to heal faster, and their stay time was one day shorter, according to Harrison.
Harrison described the considerations that went into designing a cancer institute in Arizona. They asked themselves, “How can we take people to the outside, or bring the outside into them. … So there are interior gardens and exterior gardens?” Simple design considerations that orient toward views include gardens on site, and those that alter the building form to allow views from deeper within the buildings make a difference.
Other psychological studies by Thomas Joseph Doherty were able to prove that the effect of well-designed buildings could lower blood pressure, relieve anxiety, lower stress, sharpen mental states, and lessen hyperactivity experienced by children while suffering.
These concepts are actually not groundbreaking. These are simple concepts that we have known for centuries. Consider the courtyard castles and monasteries of Europe, or the classic buildings of Rome surrounding open forums. All these enable greater connection to the outdoors, natural light, and good ventilation.
As environmental conditions worsen and health problems abound, there is more of an effort to find the causes. Reintegrating simple environmental considerations in today’s buildings is one solution.
“Improving the health of our planet is intrinsically linked to our own health. … The unprecedented developing drive over the past 50 years is putting unsustainable pressures on our planet and our health,” said Breeze Glazer, who works in architecture and design firm Perkins + Will.
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